Adventuring Through the National Parks, Part Two

We are nearing the end of #NationalParkWeek, and it’s been fun for us to look back at our travels and where we’ve gone in the 12 years since we first started visiting what has been called “America’s Best Idea.”  In 2006 we ventured across the American West and drove over 6,000 miles.  We experienced Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and a made thousands of memories along the way.  It started a love for the National Parks that continues today.

Robyn has her favorites.  These are a few of mine.

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park– San Francisco, California.  Take one day in San Francisco and experience everything from the infamous Alcatraz to the old growth redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument to the only Civil War-era fort built on the West Coast, Fort Point.  Visit the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge or tour the history of California at The Presidio.

1Get away from the crazy hustle and bustle of the waterfront and experience the history of sailing, fishing, and so much more at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, or go directly to the coast and Lands End Lookout overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  There is literally so much to see and do in this amazing combination of monuments and historic sites, you will not be able to experience it all in one visit.

 


 

 

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Capitol Reef National Park – Torrey, Utah.  There are so many beautiful National Parks in Utah, it’s hard to choose one.  But Capitol Reef combines incredible arches, canyons, and red cliffs with a whole lot of history, which makes it tops for me.  The unique landscape of Capitol Reef made it ideal for Native American cultures, and there are countless petroglyphs visible, some just a short walk from the main road through the park.

Created more than 500 years ago, they are stunning examples of the Fremont people who lived here before the Mormon settlement of Fruita planted orchards of more than 3,000 trees.  1 (1)You can still visit one of the old houses, eat fruit right from the trees (they are maintained by the park), and then take a drive in deep red rock canyons–it’s a perfect experience for everyone.


 

Since Robyn only listed three, I’m limiting myself to three, too.  Honestly, I could list at least a dozen here, but since I only have one more choice, I have to go with the one that started it all.


yellowstone-1500x609Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone NP, Wyoming.  Without Yellowstone, there would be no National Park system.  It was the very first National Park in the world, and it remains one of the most amazingly diverse ecosystems in America–a truly stunning combination of animals, geothermal wonders, rivers, canyons, and more.  It is one of those parks that you can’t experience just once–there is so much to see that a day’s drive from one end to the other will leave you a bit exhausted.  636559460866264567-1-Yellowstone-Kris-Wiktor-shutterstock-96972083Take time to explore the mudpots and geysers, marvel at the wateralls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and stop and stare at elk, buffalo, and countless other species that call the park home.  Yellowstone is one of the busiest National Parks, so plan ahead and make reservations for hotels around it, or for camping inside it.  You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be reminded why our National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.”

What are your favorite National Parks?  What tips can we share about any visits you might be planning this summer?  Let us know!

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Adventuring through the National Parks, Part One

This week, the National Park Service celebrates #NationalParkWeek.  National Park Week is designed for you to find out more about America’s national parks.  With over 400 units in the Park system, from historic sites, monuments, battlefields, and parks, there’s a lot to discover.  You might be surprised what you can find in your own backyard by exploring nature, history, and culture.  You can find out more about these places during special events available during National Park Week.

Our family has been visiting the National Parks since our first major road trip back in July 2006.  Since then, we have explored more than 60 parks, monuments, and historic sites across the American West.  We’ve seen some of the classics, plus a few less-traveled places as well.  This week, we are going to share with you some of our favorite locations in the national park system–and why we think they are the some of the best places for your family to discover your next adventure!

With so many parks, there’s a lot to experience and enjoy.  Every family member will have their favorites for different reasons.  Here are my favorites out of the parks we’ve had some adventures in.

ROBYN’S FAVORITE NATIONAL PARKS

Welcome to ArchesArches National Park in Moab, Utah.   Arches feels like one of those places that you imagine would only be in a fairy tale.  With its red rocks and sweeping views, it’s nearly impossible to take in every single sight that mother nature whipped up. With over 2,000 sandstone arches, a day is not nearly long enough time to spend here.  Drive thru or hike up the many different trails that are for any skill levels.  While we did not hike up to the famous Delicate Arch (it is recommended for advanced hikers and can get too hot during the middle part of the day), we were able to take a beginner hike to a view point.  img_4323Our older teenagers loved climbing up the sandstone rocks, but I think they did it just to make me nervous.  We have been here twice in the past 10 years and will likely visit again!

 


 

 

img_4539Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, Colorado.  Spanish for Green Table, Mesa Verde is so rich in history, that even our youngest kids stayed engaged as we took tour after tour to discover more about the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people.  The nearly 600 cliff dwellings have existed for over 700 years.  Although the popular Spruce Tree House closed to the public in 2015 due to excessive damage and falling rock, there are still dozens of cliff dwellings to visit.  img_4646My favorite was the ranger-led Cliff Palace, which allows visitors to look inside the doorways of the ancient dwellings and gain a better understanding of why the Pueblo people originated here then suddenly abandoned their homes.  If you prefer to stay on your own timeline and save some money, there are plenty of family hikes that you can do on your own.


 

xXcSTk+VRjG2Udcir2bP%Q_thumb_31327Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana.  Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier has some of the clearest, bluest water, I have ever seen.  Whether you’re choosing to hike, take a guided tour, or drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier has several days’ worth of outdoor activities and natural habitats to discover.  My favorite was Going-to-the-Sun Road, where the road hugs the cliff walls so closely I could reach out my hand and touch it as we drove up the mountains.  I’m a bit nervous on these high roads, so this really helped with my nervousness.  This drive takes about 2 hours, but with several stops along the way–to look at waterfalls, watch native wildlife like deer or mountain goats–it was well worth it.  Typically, you can only drive Going-to-the-Sun in the summer, because it takes so long to clear the road from all the snow during the winter.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3132bFrom wildlife to waterfalls, the drive does not disappoint.  Glacier now offers an audio tour to accompany you on your drive.


 

 

Whether you have your own favorite National Park or have never visited, I encourage you to get out and try something new this summer.  One of the mottos of the National Park System is #FindYourPark.  Every park is different and every park will bring out different feelings in your family.  Luckily, there are plenty of parks, which means plenty of adventures for every member of your family to enjoy.  The memories you bring home will be unforgettable, and make you want to start planning your next trip.

In Part Two, Duane will share his favorite parks we’ve experienced on our journeys.

 

5 Restaurants to Try On Your Travels

On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food.  There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience.  Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!

Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon

The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant.  You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home.  That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time.  Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence.  We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city.  Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.

Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado

The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history.  Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining.  The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in.  As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was.  Instead, we were back in a back patio area.  Bummer, right?  Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out.  Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park.  We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado.  Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.

McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington

We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country.  Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history.  We couldn’t have made a better choice.  The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar.  McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too.  A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.

Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona

When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer,  I asked the clerk about good local food.  He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?”  That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s.  Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant.  It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy.  The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton).  The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful.  Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice.  My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.”  This was  where the experience went from good to great.  The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist.  If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.

El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington

I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening.  El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary.  There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking.  We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed.  While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original.  Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.

What about you?  What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures?  Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!